Alto Saxophone History

Alto saxophone history begins in 1840 with the Belgian, Adolphe Sax, who invented the musical instrument in that year. Sax was a music student at the Brussels Conservatory. He played the clarinet and the flute and studied instrument making from his father. In fact, his father had a part in designing the rotary valves used on trumpets and other brass instruments.

Sax thought his “saxhorn” would combine the elements of a brass instrument with a woodwind, and thus work well in orchestras and military bands, and it does. Popular musicians, however, have made it best known for use in jazz and other popular styles.

One of the first classical works to include a part for the saxophone was “Chant Sacre” by Berlioz. This work was performed in 1844. Sax lived in Paris by this time, and in the same year, the instrument was displayed for the first time at the Paris Industrial Exhibition.Two years later in alto saxophone history Sac received his patent. Military music was very popular at the time and the saxophone was very appropriate for that style.

About this time, Sax reworked his design so that the alto saxophone was tuned to E-flat, making it easier to incorporate into military band arrangements. He also worked on the tenor saxophone, tuning it to B-flat. Lawsuits and other problems dogged Adolphe Sax because his instrument company brought competition to the other instrument makers in Paris. The French revolution also affected alto saxophone history, because Sax could no longer get support for his work from the King.

When Sax’s patent expired in 1866, other companies started making saxophones and made some changes, including a forked f-sharp key in 1866 and screw-on key pads in 1868. Saxophone history continued with Sax teaching saxophone music in the Paris Conservatory in 1867. His son, Adolphe Edouard Sax ran the business after Sax’s death in 1894 until it was sold to the Henri Selmer company in 1928.

Adolphe SaxAdolphe Sax

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